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Should Mexico’s Baja California Sur Be Renamed “California”?

Cuauhtemoc Morgan Hernandez is a 53-year-old journalist lives in  San Jose del Cabo, a beach city in Baja California Sur but he’s petitioning to remove the “baja” and “sur” to return to the original name, the Los Angeles Times reports. The 31st state retains the name that was historically given to the regions, stretching up to Oregon, but Hernandez is fighting for a name he believe belongs to his home state.

“It’s time to return to our original name: California,” he wrote in a May petition to lawmakers in which he dismissed Baja as a “mutilation” used by businesses to appeal to tourists. “It’s a fight to recover our identity,” Hernandez said. “If we lose the name California, we lose our history.”

There are a few theories surrounding the origin of the name but the most commonly accepted one is that it’s derived from the Latin phrase, “calida fornax” meaning “hot, fiery furnace.” Academics believe it stems from  Las sergas de Esplandián, a chivalric novel first published in 1510 by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, focused on an island called California with all-female inhabitants resembling Amazonians. Spanish conquistadors took the name from the book and began using it around 1535 where it was discovered that the California they previously thought was an island is a peninsula. The Spanish maintained that California stretched from the southern tip of the peninsula to the Oregon border until Catholic missionaries arrived around the 1700s and broke them up into “Alta California” and “Baja California.”

The California we know today is a result of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War and Alta California became part of the U.S., officially becoming a state in 1850 when it dropped the “Alta.”  Meanwhile, Baja California was a unified Mexican territory until 1930 and the northern part kept the name Baja California, while the southern part eventually became Baja California Sur – both formally established in 1888 and Baja California Sur became a state in 1974.

Though the Los Angeles Times reports Hernandez hasn’t made any progress with state legislatures, his campaign has received support from local citizens. The rise in tourism has led to it being popularity referred to simply as “Baja” and Hernandez along with his supporters believe that it’s weakened the sense of community. Documentary filmmaker Gabriel Fonseca Verdugo grew up going to the beach city and supports the cause, mainly to help strengthen the connection among residents.

“Once all the tourism development arrived, people started selling this place as a destination,” Fonseca told the LA Times. “The idea of this place as a community disappeared.”

He and Hernandez discussed the campaign where Hernandez shared that he thinks Baja California should  be referred to as “Alta California” and pointed out how some countries in Latin America have a state known as “Amazonas” and there’s no confusion.

“Over time,” he said, the LA Times reports, “they’ll just come to know it as California, Mexico.”